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Purification & The Rock

Portion 114

  • Numbers 19:1-20:13
  • Ezekiel 36:16-36
  • Matthew 6:19-24

Purification by the Red Heifer

The portion for this week begins with Numbers 19 which gives details on laws for purification among the people of Israel. In this section, we see God speaking to Moses and Aaron concerning the ritual of slaughtering a red heifer for the sins of Israel. The heifer was to be without blemish and never to have bore a yoke (a mechanism for plowing used on farm animals) and was to be slaughtered specifically outside of the camp (v3). The ashes of the slaughtered and burned heifer were to be kept outside the camp in “a clean place” (v9) and were to be used for purifying those who came into contact with a dead body. The chapter details how and when the ashes were to be used in purifying the people of Israel in these instances throughout; if one refused to participate in the purification with the ashes, he was to “be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD” (v20).

This purification is a foreshadow of its fulfillment by the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua. Just like the heifer, Yeshua was without blemish (1 Peter 1:19) and was also crucified outside of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:11-12). Much like the heifer cleansed the people from the contamination of death, Yeshua cleanses us from the reality of death. And much like the people of Israel who refused to cleanse themselves with the ashes of the red heifer, those who refuse Christ’s sacrifice will be cut off from the Kingdom of God.

The Rock and Moses’s Disobedience

The final half of the portion details the account of Moses bringing water from the rock in Meribah. In this section of the portion, Moses and Aaron were criticized by the people of Israel for leading the people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. The people grumbled and complained that there were no grains, figs, pomegranates, and water for them within the wilderness. Following this criticism, Moses and Aaron petition God. God speaks clearly to Moses and instructs him to take his staff and speak to the rock in Meribah by telling it to yield water. But when Moses approaches the people of Israel, he deviates from the instructions ever so slightly. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses strikes the rock twice, causing the water to flow out abundantly (v11). Even though the water came as told by God, the method by which it came was not how God intended.

In Exodus 17, God also tells Moses to bring water from the rock. This time, however, God had instructed Moses to strike the rock in order to bring about the water rather than speaking to it. Moses, seemingly upset with the people now in Numbers 20, chose to disregard the details of God’s instructions and struck the rock again rather than speaking to it. 

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.
(Numbers 20:10-11 ESV)

Even though God had given Moses clear instructions during the first encounter with the rock in Exodus 17 to strike it, he gave different, yet still clear, instructions for this encounter, which Moses deliberately chose to disobey. Moses was clearly upset with the people, notably demonstrated by his calling of them “rebels” and mocking them. And don’t miss the significance of how many times it took for the water to flow from the rock. Moses struck the rock twice, not once as he did in Exodus 17, and the water flowed out. Moses was unsuccessful in the first strike but successful in the second, but it cost him more than he could have imagined. Following his disobedient striking of the rock, God immediately spoke to Moses and Aaron and said that they would not lead the people into the promised land because they neither believed God in this matter nor upheld him as holy in front of the people of Israel (v12).

Why, though, would God allow for the water to flow from the rock through a clear demonstration of disobedience? It seems as though God was already painting a picture of Christ the Redeemer all the way back in Exodus and Numbers. When God instructed Moses to strike the rock in Exodus 17, he foreshadowed the striking of Christ for the atonement of our sins. In Isaiah, we see that Christ is said to have been laid in Zion as a stone of sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16) and that he would be stricken for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5); in 1 Corinthians, Paul explains that the people of Israel were drinking from a spiritual rock which was Christ (1 Cor 10:4); the Gospel of John has Yeshua himself explaining to the woman at the well that he will give living water to those who ask (John 4:10).

By instructing Moses to strike the rock once in Exodus 17, he paints the picture of Yeshua being stricken for us; and by instructing Moses later to merely speak to the rock in Number 20, God intended to preserve that same picture, but Moses distorted that picture in the eyes of the people and caused them to receive an incorrect understanding of God’s plan. Christ died once for all, as per Hebrews 10:10, and that truth – which was painted first in Exodus 17 with the striking of the rock – was distorted by Moses striking it again in Numbers 20. God, then, saw it necessary to rebuke Moses in his actions in order to preserve his intended understanding of salvation. By refusing Moses entry into the promised land and having his successor Joshua bring them in, God made it clear that we cannot enter into salvation (i.e., the promised land) by works of our own (i.e., striking the rock), but only through the redemptive blood of Yeshua (i.e., by Joshua) shall we enter in.

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